Soundbars and Subwoofers

It’s Not as Easy as it Seems

How REL restores the balance in your system and, maybe, in your faith in how this all goes together.

Sometimes you don’t want an audio system – too expensive, too complicated for your needs. Which is why God made soundbars. Maybe it’s a bedroom with a flat panel and you just want to watch the evening news while dozing off or catch an occasional movie. Or maybe piecing together a system seems too expensive or daunting (see our post The Basics of Home Theater to overcome this challenge). But as tv’s have gotten thinner and thinner, their sound has gone way downhill every season. So you buy a soundbar, only to discover the sound is often not as advertised or worse, the puny little “subwoofer” that it comes packaged with neither “subs” (goes down low) nor “woofs” (barks out big sound).

First, a quick warning: DON’T buy a soundbar if you have any aspirations to them being a purchase that offers even a modicum of connection flexibility. Think you might want to have a gaming console and an Apple tv or ROKU running. Fine, but you want to watch a Blu-ray too? You may be out of luck. So just know your own needs.

Let’s say you look around and buy a decent soundbar from a real audio company. Please don’t buy audio products from tv companies. There’s a reason we don’t make tv’s (it’s really hard to do well). And there’s a reason they shouldn’t try to sell you audio products (it’s really hard to do well). You get it home and the first few days are ok, certainly it’s a step up from the junk in your flat panel tv. But you can’t help but notice that even with your reasonable expectations of decent sound held firmly in hand, the bass from the soundbar is still puny and even voices lack the rich resonant character of natural sound.

So you do a little comparison shopping on how to restore some balance to the sound, and an experienced friend suggests buying a quality subwoofer to support the soundbar. The companies that keep coming up most often for subwoofers are –SURPRISE– subwoofer-only specialists like REL or one of the other two companies that truly specializes in the category. Thanks for finding us. You go online, you pick out one of our more affordable models and either order it up or call your favorite store and have them deliver one to you. And that’s when you discover that many, no, most of the soundbars out there resort to a nasty little trick whose only real purpose is to keep you tied to their product and no one else’s: the soundbar has no sub out connection and requires you to use their wireless subwoofer.

You guessed it, you’ve wandered into the world of awful sounding-but-proprietary-wireless upper bass fart-boxes that are subwoofers in name only. They don’t extend low, meaning into the 30-50 Hertz region, they don’t even blend well with their own soundbar and the only reason their wireless sub is “proprietary” is to force you to purchase both from them.

Here’s a little trick our own Jacob Van Sickle shared with a client who had purchased a soundbar/sub combo from a large television company and discovered the sound was awful. This is verbatim, the response Jacob gave a frustrated customer who needed help:

REL Acoustics HT/1205 Subwoofer

Based on the dimensions of your room, we recommend the HT/1205 subwoofer as being the best option for pairing with your Samsung HW-MS750 soundbar. The HT/1205 has a fast and responsive output which will blend seamlessly with this soundbar, and the combination of its 500 watt amplifier and 12″ driver will provide deep and dynamic sub-bass output in your room. 

Since the HW MS-750 soundbar does not feature analog outputs for connecting the subwoofer, an interface or preamp device such as the StarTech USB Audio adapter will be necessary so that both the soundbar and the subwoofer will be able to receive signal from your computer.

The optical S/PDIF output on the StarTech will be able to connect to the optical input on the HW-MS750, and the StarTech’s “Center/Bass” output will be able to connect to the RCA input jacks on the HT/1205. With this type of setup, it will be necessary to use the volume control on the StarTech rather than the volume control on the soundbar itself, so that volume changes will be applied simultaneously to both the soundbar and the subwoofer.

I hope that this helps, but feel free to let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

REL Acoustics Customer Success Manager Jacob Van Sickle

OK, so maybe 500 watts is a little more than you need for your application, but what a fantastic, thoughtful and clever solution to share with a client who thought they were out of luck. Which highlights just one more advantage to dealing with true specialists who eat, sleep and breathe subwoofers year-round. We love this stuff. We love helping people out of jams. We love problem solving and we’re pretty darned good at it. Which is why we attract smart, nice folks like Jacob who share similar interests and know their stuff.

Know yourself before you buy a soundbar. Be honest with yourself, does it really meet your needs (they typically offer limited connectivity)?  Buy it, listen and be prepared to ignore the “you have to use it with one of our subwoofers” because their marketing team misunderstood in marketing 101 the mantra “we want to make you a customer for life.”

Go to the experts for real, lasting solutions. Not just in subs, but companies that make great tv’s should be rewarded, just as speaker companies should be rewarded. Just remember that neither likely make great subwoofers. So look for truly special subwoofer companies for great subwoofers. And how will you know them when you encounter them? Because the quality of the entire experience –the products they build, the way those products are marketed, the education they offer, the after sales service they provide – all add up to one seamless experience that can’t be faked. Or you could simply look for the company that Jacob Van Sickle works for.

December 29, 2020 - Posted in: Deep Dive Setup